What will v2.6 of the rules have?

Wagon-RaidI mentioned the next rules release of v2.6 a few times, so I thought I’d dedicate a post specifically about what will be changing. In a word: weapons!

As usual you can grab the latest copy of the rulebook PDF updated directly from my computer to Dropbox from http://bleedingedge.mine.nu/.

Example v2.6 Posses
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so what value does that give a posse roster? Here are two posses built for v2.6 with plenty of gimmicks and wackiness around the new weapons and trait combinations. I’m going to playtest using these (and others) to ensure the math and feel of the new weapons and other changes works.
Both of the posses were built until I felt happy with them, so don’t worry about the IP/ND values. Similarly everyone was given very similar stats and Hitpoints to help with testing.

General William’s Brigade v2.6 Posse Roster – I see the General riding into battle on his Triceratops, with his steadfast doctor Unit 4-15-3 supporting him from a seat further back. And I can’t wait for Tom West to punch someone for 2A-8D. Think of this posse as a USA Civil War era cavalry gang.

LeDorf’s Royal Force v2.6 Posse Roster – Lots of neat ideas here, from The Tombstone weapon (only 12-12″ range, but crazy damage and effects) to the Madhat grenadier (who will square off against the flamethrower wielding Malius in the enemy posse quite well), to Glargamar grabbing someone with the Dinocatcher and then slicing them to ribbons with the Rattlesnake Axe. Instead of a pure doctor this posse is using the new Motivate weapons with the Lend a Hand trait. I don’t think it will be quite as effective, but it’s an interesting idea none the less. Think of this posse as an American Revolution era British response force (thus the aristocratic name).

Minor Changes
Before I get to that, there are also a few other changes and improvements. Some minor stuff like the table of contents being clickable and reworked to one page. +2 HP to the Leader when playing the Assassinate objective. Removing the “Clever Girl” deployment for “Diagonal”. Some clean up of the Quick Reference Sheet. Clarifying Cover to be 25%+ obscured. Adding a few new sepia toned images and a new gameplay image. Removed the campaign based Medical Devices for healing Wounds/Injuries. Cleaned up the Yeehaw! ability and split Bravery Test on Leader death to a separate section. Even super tiny stuff like using ÷ instead of / for division and defining Defense for Armor as +X instead of a flat X. So just the usual tweaks and poking and prodding.

Trait Changes
But the core changes are around weapons, and to a lesser degree Traits. For Traits they have been split from a single complex table to one for Active and one for Passive. Similarly the less used Traits have been balanced and buffed. And Passive traits now use the highest stage, exactly like Active, instead of stacking. So Bonus HP went from +3 per stage to +3/+6/+9…same effect, but more consistency between the two types. My favorite example of a trait change is “Boxer”, which now has 2 stages of +3/+7 damage with Brawl attacks. What this means is a character can take both stages and be dishing out 2A-8D punches or 1A-9D kicks, or 1A-8D trips with Stopped. So basically you can make a Jackie Chan / Jet Li martial arts style character and still have it be viable.
Viable is actually a good word here, as something like “Racer” shows. Previously this Passive trait was +1 SPD to Hustle…but that begs the question who would ever take it over a flat Bonus SPD +1 trait? So now Racer is +2 SPD to Hustle. Again, just little tweaks to ensure variety and choice when building your posse.

(“Big Iron” picture by MMoussee, and based on the Marty Robbins song that I based the upcoming “Big Iron” weapon in this game on!)

The Main Event – Weapon Changes
Now for the weapons, which again have that focus on viability. Most of these changes are lingering leftovers from the Battle to Seattle campaign. The campaign and subsequently v2.5 were terrific for expanding the list of choices (especially the delicious pistols!), but also had a few rough edges. One important lesson I learned is once a posse is at the $2,000 level, and even more so beyond that, they can more or less afford any weapon they want for anyone (aside from crazy stuff like the $1,500 Field Gun). What this means is (eventually) price is no longer a balancing factor for weapons. “This gun does more damage, but costs $50 more!” means nothing when you have $700 in the bank.
So in the end players went for “top tier” guns, regardless of price. In case you haven’t noticed, range weapons are capable of 9 damage (before Crits), in a variety of attack-damage patterns, while close combat weapons can reach 10 damage. For range this means 6A-3D, 1A-8D, 4A-5D, etc. The problem was a lot of weapon “lines”, like the Laserbow or Pump Shotgun, didn’t reach that “top tier” 9 damage category. For example Laserbows topped out at 1A-6D. So for $1,000 posses they might be used, but anything above that and they’ll be left by the wayside in favor of more damaging guns.
Because of this a lot of the weapon lines were fleshed out to top tier. This means a “Laserbow 80” with 1A-8D, a 6GJ Pump Shotgun with 3A-6D, a Coach Gun with 2A-7D, etc.
Similarly close weapons recieved the same treatment. Axes were split and are 4A-XD weapons now, the high attack no damage weapons go up to 10 (like 2GJ Tumbleweed with 8A-2D to follow the Thunderstick), etc. I split out Natural Weapons to their own page (and subcategorized Brawl/Beast) so the wireframe weapon image got moved too.

Shotgun-HospitalityThe other focus was on special abilities, and making those weapons less expensive and more viable. I also added, changed, and removed some of the abilities. Say goodbye to “Cover Breaker” and the related Defoliant Grenades, and say hello to “Cavalry” (+1 Damage while mounted). Both Barrels is now +2 Damage instead of +2 Attacks, to differentiate even moreso from Fan the Hammer. Sap was renamed to “Motivate”, and now has a slew of awesome ranged and close weapons like the War Horn, Harmonica, Battle Standard, etc. There are also Pulled range weapons now in the Harpoon Gun and Dinocatcher. To utilize the new Cavalry special there are Carbines, which have a short and long distance but no medium, and also close combat weapons (like the Dragoon Sword).
Another push was to get alternative names for commonly used guns, especially top tier stuff. So now instead of everyone having 500kW Six-Shooters you could use the “O’Sullivan Sixer”, or The Stampede instead of a top tier Volcanic Pistol, or Judge instead of a Peacemaker, or Enforcer instead of the 5GJ Auto Shotgun, etc. I love so many of these new names that I’m just gonna list some here…

Some Range Weapons: Ranch Blaster (600kW Walker Revolver), Ace in the Hole (Derringer), Yannigan Pistol and Big Iron (Handcannon line), Tirador Rifle, Frontier Twin Rifle (300kW Twin Rifle), Streetsweeper Shotgun, Coach Gun, Settler Defender (6GJ Pump Shotgun), M-2285 Rifle (Assault Rifle), Klondike 7000, Prairie Carbine (400kW Carbine), Boss Bow (Laserbow 80), Geyser Grenades (Tangle Grenades), Homesteader (Barbed Lasso), The Tombstone, Wagon Blazer (more viable Flamethrower!), Pepperbox Pistol, Clark Airgun, Hangman’s Noose (with 5″ Pulled)

Some Close Weapons: Biosteel Knife (same damage as Biosteel Lance, clever!), Mountain Man Axe, Horned Axe, Rattlesnake Axe, Knuckledusters, Dinofist, Power Knuckles, Sledgehammer, Spike Driver, Feudbreaker (Pickaxe), Lacerator (Whip), Boot Blade (Switchblade), Coup Stick, Overcharged Dinoprod, Hafted Blade, Dragoon Sword

So all in all lots of fun new toys to play with. The list is definitely intimidating at first glance (Range Weapons has spilled over to FIVE! tables now), but a lot of the weapons are just repeats with better damage and a higher price tag.

Bronco-BusterSaloon Changes
The Saloon posse designer will receive these changes as well, and also has a few improvements. The most loved will probably be the fact that weapon special ability names are written on the roster themselves to the far right of the weapon name, woot woot! So you’ll see 300kW Six-Shooter*, but now also in a smaller font “Fan the Hammer”. This helps players remember exactly whether the shotgun had Both Barrels or Open Choke, without having to check any list. The actually effect isn’t written on the roster, but experienced players will know them by heart, and they’re not hard to learn or leave the rules page open as a reference.
Also the free Brawl and Lasso attacks are “buyable” now, so that players who DO build that Jackie Chan character can actually see the base Punch/Kick/Shove/Trip on their roster without having to calculate it.
And an old bug was fixed around Clear Sight, which adds +1″ to all weapon ranges. Previously this effect was blindly applied, so a Repeater would get 1-14 Medium distance (because it’s the first range band) instead of 0-14. Bug fixing isn’t the most exciting news, but it’s important to do.

So all in all v2.6 is shaping up to be a release focused on weapon and trait polishing, with a few rules clarifications as well. No drastic core changes which is always nice. I’m eager to release the rules so I can do many battle reports with the slew of cool weapons.
The ol’ TODO list is actually pretty short now, and in some ways the release changelog will mimic a lot of what was said here. I need to retake a gameplay photo, finish updating The Saloon lists, and then do the usual double/triple/quadruple checking for any inconsistencies. There is nothing more annoying than going through the rules release process and noticing a tiny error immediately afterwards.

As for the rules in general, I think at some point I’d be done revising them…right? Right? In some ways I wish I could just stop poking and prodding them…but I said the exact same thing in 2011! And look at how much better and more refined the game is now. Maybe it’s just fun to have a project I can return to every now and then and update. One thing I DO want to avoid is tacking on rules or complexity. I might add “expansions” that do that, but for the core rules I don’t want to add a bunch of flavor-of-the-month cruft and baggage.
I know it looks like I’ve been at this blog for ~5 years, but with the big posting gaps and shift from RPG to skirmish (which was basically a rewrite) I bet you could narrow down the actual project to a 6-8 month task.
Besides at some point I’m going to want to make my diceless Hackers game, or damage template Barons game, or my blue ocean navy Privateer game, or my asymmetrical Viking raiding game, etc.

Anyway look for v2.6 near the end of March, or April at the latest (it will depend a bit on my playtesting schedule).

(Credit for the other art goes to Frederic Remington from the late 1800s)

Two games I’m designing, and a general ponder

This deviates a bit from the usual Dinosaur Cowboy fare, but I had a few topics I wanted to cover.

First of all I’ve been vaguely designing two games. I like to say “vaguely” because I haven’t put a ton of time into either, and both are fairly experimental, and they’re more an exercise for my brain than something I’d put the same amount of time/effort into as Dinosaur Cowboys (I think?).

On general tabletop combat resolution
Warhammer-40kChessThe first topic is one I have been ruminating over for a while. Quite a brain teaser and design conundrum: combat resolution. While commuting home I thought that once combat resolution starts in every tabletop game (I can think of at least) the player doesn’t matter at all. What I mean is whether it’s Warhammer 40,000 or my much beloved Dinosaur Cowboys, once you start rolling dice ANYONE could be rolling those dice to the same effect. So that means combat resolution generally removes the player from the equation, and gives them no meaningful decisions or influence.
So what does that leave tabletop games as? Chess with dice to resolve attacks? What I mean is if combat resolution WASN’T dice based, and was simply automatic, then the only differentiation between players is how they move/maneuver troops, and what troops they decide in the first place (ie: army building). And then does the game become solvable, like Chess?
This becomes a problem if the combat resolution system is particularly onerous. Again Warhammer 40,000 comes to mind here. The system basically removes the player for 3 rolls in a row (roll to hit, roll to wound, roll to save). But if you revert to a “simple” combat resolution system (such as a roll-off), then why even have dice involved at all?
What this boils down to is what if there was a tabletop game where combat resolution was as involved, interesting, and full of meaningful and unique decisions as the movement phase? Before we talk more, realize that I don’t have an example of a system where this IS the case…if I did there wouldn’t be as much to discuss.

2016 EDIT: Thankfully I did eventually crack this problem, and created a game called Fickle RPG as a result. The core resolution mechanic has plenty of decision points that differs between players and situation, while still being fast playing and fun.

Part of the problem is if the options provided to the player can easily be broken down into odds, the player will inevitably gravitate to the best odds. So that goes back to the “meaningful decision” aspect.
Part of this also comes down to melee vs ranged, because melee normally ends up as some kind of roll off. Sure both players might roll differently, such as a 1 Attack 4 Damage melee weapon in Dinosaur Cowboys vs 6 Attack 2 Damage, but in the end they’re both taking turns rolling dice (no control) against each other, without moving, positioning, or making any decisions in between. To a certain extent ranged attacks result in the same…in a “shootout” both players are just rolling dice against each other, one might just roll a more favorable set of dice if they’ve moved into cover or are shooting at a better range bracket.
So movement then plays a deceivingly BIG part of a tabletop game. Deceivingly because if a random player was asked “What’s important in a game?” I doubt many would say movement. But at the same time it’s often ignored by systems, or left to tiny, obvious moves when you only have 3″ or 4″ to choose from. Similarly army building/drafting is important, but if you have a system where you can win by building a superior army alone, what exactly is the point of playing out the game itself?
Let’s look at alternatives. Computer games do a good, but untranslatable job, by having muscle skill and reflex play a factor. For example in something like Starcraft 2 two players can have the exact same army, and the combat resolution could even be non-random, but based on player skill one person will win. Where player skill is that untranslatable element of position, reflex, “micro”, etc.
Ninety-Percent-PlanningNow if we look at systems where combat resolution DOES have meaningful choices, does movement matter at all? In most cases, no. For example Magic the Gathering could be viewed as one big combat resolution mechanic (of mage vs mage), but movement/positioning doesn’t play a factor at all…thus why it’s a card game not a tabletop game.
So does that mean that tabletop games will always have movement as an important factor? Probably. But is there a way to have combat resolution have as MUCH meaning and player input? And if so, would that system work? Or would it become too complex and lengthy if “both phases” had a lot of involvement instead of a brainless section of dice rolling? What about if combat resolution was stressed over movement, then do you even need movement?

Going back to the two games below, the Hackers game unexpectedly gets closest to covering this. This is because the combat mechanism is diceless, so it’s completely plannable (for lack of a better word). It’s also very fast because the outcome is decided immediately and repeatably. Similarly there is no army building because all “troops” (Nodes) are the same. Choosing “Programs” fulfills a similar niche though.
The result in my playtests was actually a surprise. Turns would be 90% planning and 10% execution. Whereas I feel like in Dinosaur Cowboys (or other games with traditional resolution mechanics) you get closer to a 50%/50% split. So in Hackers you plan and puzzle a whole bunch, and try to “solve” the best approach for that turn (very thematic for a computer-y themed game), then the actual resolution is basically “bing bang boom” because there are no dice to roll.
So again, what if the resolution was the opposite, where 10% of the turn was planning and 90% was execution? And that execution didn’t just take time (aka Warhammer 40,000) but actually had meaningful player decisions the whole time? I guess I should have defined this earlier, but with “meaningful” I mean there are choices that different players will choose differently (so no automatic “best path”, best odds, or obvious choice that all players would do), and those choices have a noticeable effect on the outcome (so not just “roll 4D6, the same 4D6 any other player would roll, and it doesn’t matter how you as a player are”). So for example Mech Attack might give the illusion of player choice during combat (because you choose which weapon to shoot first), but the options are so obvious that it’s meaningless (shoot the narrow, long damage before the wide, shallow damage with the hopes of collapsing armor).

Anyway I’m getting rambling and (perhaps?) incoherent at this point, so I’ll stop. But the fundamental idea highlighted above really got me thinking: what if there was a tabletop game where combat resolution was as involved, interesting, and full of meaningful and unique decisions as the movement phase?

Hackers – Diceless Skirmish: Download early rules Hackers-v0.1.pdf
Hackers-lolHaving said that, the first game is more interesting to me, and is temporarily called “Hackers”. Before you get too excited it’s sadly not based on the awesome 1995 movie with the same name. Think more based on Tron, the book Snowcrash, and bits of the movie Johnny Mnemonic. The main gimmick of the design is it’s totally diceless, so no “output randomness”.
Players are hackers and battle over “The Grid”, a virtual overlay on the real world with device nodes (like a cellphone or computer server) represented by avatars (aka use any miniature you want). What’s cool is the “Nodes” are completely interchangeable and faceless; they don’t have different stats or attacks to begin with. Instead the hacker chooses a series of Commands and Tasks programs (think “spells” in a fantasy setting) that can be executed on Nodes. So in other words if you have the program “Break Firewall” it can be used from any Node, instead of being a specific ability tied to a specific Node. Actually the game started themed as duelling spellcasters so Nodes were Vessels, programs were spells, etc. but after playtesting the theme didn’t fit as well as it could, so I went with the Hacker/computery thing instead.
BECKLots of other neat ideas, like Tasks (buffs/de-buffs) that affect a Node until they are Shutdown (dispelled). That’s a nice departure from having to track durations of effects (like +1 Attack). The game is played on a square grid, with random terrain. Deployment is cool because you can deploy anywhere (as long as it’s not within 3 squares of an enemy Node), so the action starts right away (instead of the traditional “table edge” deploy).
So all in all some neat ideas, and something I definitely want to pursue.

Barons – Mech Attack Rework: Download early rules Barons-v0.1.pdf
Damage-Template-System The next game is basically an afternoon of effort to rework Armor Grid: Mech Attack that I (again temporarily) call “Barons”. This is a little light game that captures the spirit of Battletech but plays a lot faster. What’s funny is their main selling point (the “Armor Grid” idea) is actually pulled from FASA (the original owners of Battletech), since it was used in their Renegade spaceship series and eventually Crimson Skies. The idea is almost as good as Silent Death and their Damage Track, and perhaps the original implementation IS better (I’ve only played Mech Attack, I’ve just read the other two games).
But to be blunt, Mech Attack is not that well written, and besides the Armor Grid system it’s rather bland and has some glaring flaws. First of all I challenge any owners of the PDF to find the section that actually outlines HOW to destroy a Mech, haha. Similarly they reward NOT moving (it’s easier to hit if you “Stand Fast”), which combined with a base movement of 3″ (in a 3’x3′ area) for Heavy Mechs means games end up as a roll off with very little movement. This was especially noticable in the last game I played, where me and my opponent ended up more or less sitting in the corner and rolling off with our two surviving Heavy Mechs (literally just sitting on opposite sides of a hill and shooting, since whoever moved would have lost cover and the Stand Fast bonus).
So yeah, me and my friends mentioned a couple of these flaws and I thought I’d take a crack at a slight rework. What I ended up with so far is Barons, which is medieval based (not sure if I want to go the full fantasy route). The system moves from D10 to D6, and a simple roll-off for combat resolution instead of D10 + many mods > target profile. So it still keeps the core Damage Template system but tries to be a better game outside of that. For example “activation” is simply issue a Command to one character, then alternate to the opponent. But what’s neat is you can Command the same character multiple turns in a row, instead of having to mark activated like Dinosaur Cowboys. And also that Commands are simple, as in Move is a Command, as is Attack. So it does away with the usual “move and attack each turn, oh and you can run as a double move and stuff”. Weapons use the Damage Template system, so a Dagger pierces 1 square wide and 2 squares down, while a Mace does a big 2×2 chunk, and a slashing weapon like a Long Sword does a 3 wide and shallow 1 square down template.
We’ll see where this game ends up…in the end if the gimmick of a game (in this case the Damage Templates) could be removed and the remaining game is boring maybe means the game isn’t that great.

Giant Siberian crater pits

Wow pretty cool to think something like this can happen in the middle of Siberia without people knowing. Also interesting how more have appeared and scientists seem out on the cause. I like this idea though: “sudden release of natural gas that had been stored in the permafrost but was kept under pressure by the weight of the pingo.”

I post this because it’s pretty close to the fun little backstory/history I made for Dinosaur Cowboys. Except of course that I use Yellowstone in Wyoming and the geyser eruption. But the idea that huge changes to the Earth can happen is the same. Heck if I had more winter terrain maybe I would have centered the game in Russia :)

Article: http://siberiantimes.com/science/casestudy/news/now-two-new-large-holes-appear-in-siberia/

Anyway the above image might make its way into the rulebook eventually (in sepia tones), since it looks exactly how I imagine the post-eruption Old Faithful geyser to look.

Lego town mixed with normal terrain

March 2015 Update: I finally played out this battle report (albeit with a slightly different Lego table). Take a look at the Thermopolis Outpost Raid with Lego!

Been a long while since my last post! I had a kid, so that’s definitely shifted my focus elsewhere :) As life starts to settle back down I’m hoping to get back into tabletop gaming.

In the meantime I’ve noticed my Lego Lone Ranger post gets a lot of hits from searches. So I figured it would be fun to eventually try a battle report using the Quickdraw posses, but in a Lego town and with Lego minifigs.

Here’s the table I setup to get a feel for how viable the idea is, complete with a dinosaur towing a Lego cart, a jail cell at the end of the road, some rooftop planks to climb between buildings, and various Lego chests scattered around the map (which I’ll use as some kind of Crate feature in the game):


A rough and fun naval supplement for Dinosaur Cowboys

ShipsFor the Coos Bay campaign battle I knew I wanted to have the posses fight each other from the back of Swimmers. For those that aren’t familiar, traditional boats and ferries aren’t used in Dinosaur Cowboys. Instead in the spirit of the theme giant ferries and ship decks are strapped to the back of various dinosaurs, such as a ferry on a Thalassomedon or Mosasaurus, whereas a smaller sloop would be on a Nothosaurus.

Soooo you kind of end up with a ship deck, but in your imagination it’s on the back of a dinosaur. In terms of game mechanics that makes the boat MUCH more maneuverable since you can go backwards without momentum, cross small islands (since the dino can clamber across), etc.

Mockup of a Swimmer provided by Nathan, one of the campaign players

In terms of the rules I mapped out decks for the Sloop and Skiff (which can be launched from the Sloop). The actual passengers ferries would be much larger. You can see the layout of these to the right, or in the rules themselves.

Otherwise the rules provide a framework for moving the ship, using various stations on board (like going “Below Decks” to heal, firing Swivel Guns and Cannons, etc.). There are also rules for boarding via boarding planks or grappling hooks. Also for swimming in deep water, and everything else necessary to add boats to a standard game of Dinosaur Cowboys.

In terms of balance and tweaks, we’ve only played the rules once, but they seemed to work well. The biggest complaint was that there wasn’t much incentive to fire a Cannon. So I’d consider tweaking those to Reload None (instead of Auto), giving it a bigger arc, maybe a different damage scheme (like 1D12 Attacks, D6 Damage), etc.

Download the Swimmer Naval Rules PDF for Dinosaur Cowboys

Anyway the rules are fairly one off so I don’t think I’ll revisit them again. I’ve been loosely brainstorming a new naval game in the back of my mind so this was somewhat an outlet for that. Plus it’s fun to have a unique battle every now and then!

Possible Variant rule: Trailblaze

MarchingI was thinking of a fun idea of a “Marching Order”, where basically if you are in a safe position you can move further. Now for the sake of fluff I’d probably call it Trailblaze, since marching brings to mind images like the right (which are still awesome, just not very cowboy-esque).
There are two options I could use. Either a Variant Rule OR a new Trait. How I envision it working is one of these ways, which are valid for either a trait or variant:

Trailblaze: Double Speed if no enemy entity is within 24″. Remove Defense bonus until the start of next Activation.
Trailblaze: For this Movement Phase use double Speed if no enemy entity is within 24″. Cannot perform an Action Phase this Activation.
Trailblaze: +4 Speed if no enemy entity is within 24″.

Pretty neat right? I could see this really giving mobility to entities who aren’t in the fight, but need to be. Sort of like if you deploy badly and need to reach somewhere you can. The downside is either the variant or trait could be exploited in some ways. For example a maxed out Runner being 24″ away and getting double Speed and going 10×2″ in one move. A maximum or cap on Trailblaze would help with this, such as “Double Speed up to 12”.

Game balance exhaustion

balanceYou know what is an unfun process? Trying to balance a game, specifically this one :) You would think by now, after years and development, this game is relatively balanced. And in the sense of “it’s symmetrical, so everyone has the same resources”, you’d be correct.
Where the problem really comes into play is when one strategy dominates the game. This has been especially noticeable in the Battle to Seattle campaign. Initially two posses were focused heavily on rifles. But in yesterdays game the third posse reworked a bit to also try to focus on rifles. In the end this meant 3 players independently decided to bring 300kW Twin Rifles and build a similar character to wield it.
Now this is not technically unbalanced on it’s own, since everyone could buy the same rifle and use the same stats. Where the unbalance and problem comes in is that’s not how I intended the game to be. I never meant for each game to devolve into a “sniper match” where everyone lines up and doesn’t move very much. I figured the mechanics and choices supported this, such as having tons of pistols to choose from and dinosaurs that are only effective up close. But what actually ended up happening is a sniper “arms race”.
You might have heard the term “kill your darlings”, which basically means don’t just coddle an idea because you spent a long time on it. But what’s really hard is killing someone elses darling (which sounds really dark and morbid). What I mean is the initial rifle users enjoyed shooting at long ranges and outdistancing everyone. But because the game isn’t designed around that, it sort of has to change or go.

A few important points have come out of this:

1. Neodollars on their own are not enough of a balancing mechanic. A lot of guns are priced $10-$20 different from each other, with the idea that each player will be strapped for cash. What actually ends up happening is everyone buys the biggest gun they can, regardless of price, and based purely on the stats, and then just builds a posse around that. Either that or they get flush with enough cash, such as halfway through the campaign where we have $1500-$2000 to throw around, and then money is no object. Armor suffers from the same problem, which is why I had to add a Speed penalty to try to balance, because money alone is not enough.

2. Skirmish games are actually pretty hard to balance and to prevent a dominant strategy, especially in a smaller play group. If a strategy doesn’t have a valid counter besides one-upping the same strategy, that’s a problem. But all this thought on balance brought me back to thinking of Mordheim and Necromunda. Now that I think about it people always complained about the balance in Mordheim, saying mass slings were overpowered, armor was too expensive, etc. That is basically the whole idea of the Coreheim fan project. I’d like to be able to achieve a playing field where most combinations of weapons work and are feasible.

3. Playtesting on your own is not enough. It’s like quality assurance for software in some ways. Subconsciously I think when I playtested I might have thought rifles were overpowered, so I tended to keep just 1 in a posse instead of having that be the focus. Similarly…

4. I need more terrain. Now that we have two 3’x4′ games going simultaneously (which was awesome by the way) I realize I need more terrain. I was happy with the amount of terrain I had for ONE such board, but two just means everything is spread way, way too thin. I’m going to try to get my friend to bring over his terrain which should help build some line-of-sight blocking avenues. I think this has helped demonstrate the power of rifles when you can get a pretty clear shot right up to your max range.

So what to do?
Well, tweak. Try to bring rifles to a point where they are support weapons, instead of basically high damage weapons that are always shooting you from further than you can shoot. My ideal situation is a midrange battle in the center of the table, since there are the most guns available at that range, it gives some leeway for close combat to happen, etc. But due to point #3 above I think I overlooked rules and weapons that prevented this from happening. It’s tough because even when I try to build a posse different than what I normally do, I still feel like deep down it’s influenced by my play style and choices.
Which is why public playtests are great, and also why this longer running campaign with friends is perfect. The one-off games we’ve done in the past normally had prebuilt posses from me, so there was sort of a natural balance. Whereas now it’s “winner take all” and everyone understands the building rules well enough to capitalize on any holes or flaws in the rules.

A good related quote from “The Art of Game Design” on balance:
“…balancing a game is nothing more than adjusting the elements of the game until they deliver the experience you want.”
So in summary right now a sniper arms race is not the type of gameplay I envisioned for Dinosaur Cowboys.

Drylands Expedition reworked to v2.5 – Windy River

Drylands-Expedition_textAs you know I’ve been working on some new weapons for the upcoming v2.5 release.

Although the live Saloon version is still using v2.3 (at the time of this post), I’ve been testing internally with building posses using a v2.5 instance of Saloon.

What that means is I got to tweak the Drylands Expedition from my Windy River test campaign to use v2.5. I tried to keep the overall flavor of each member, but was happy to be able to use some new weapons too. For example Quidel changed from a Heavy Pistol (which no longer exists) to a LeDuc Revolver and cheap Break Action Shotgun. Gibson dropped his aging Laserbow to try out a Variable Pulse Rifle. I even used some minor changes like Salve being the same price as Small IRP to buy one of those for Crazy Rhodes instead of his old approach. With all the new pistols available Sarah Love was finally able to get started on a brace of different types. So she has a Volcanic Pistol for up close and a Peacemaker for slightly longer shots. Her old dual Handcannons went to Crazy Rhodes, who has a better RTN anyway, and his figure matches the dual wield look well.
And so on and so forth.

Anyway here is the PDF roster of the v2.5 Drylands Expedition. I just thought it was neat to see such an “established” posse being updated to the latest weapons.

What I hope to do at some point in the future is revisit this campaign. Maybe not to play it for many more games, but one big finale would be great. Maybe the fight at the Night Dagger camp itself is the finale. That’ll be after the Battle to Seattle campaign wraps up of course. So nice to have all this Dinosaur Cowboys gaming going on.

Also I’m away this weekend so no Battle to Seattle game or other posts this week. Back at it with a fun fight at Lake Tahoe on March 6th though!

Updating close combat weapons too

Melee-WeaponsWell after the grand overhaul of range weapons the last couple of days, I sat down and brought melee weapons in line too. More variety (well, not quite to the medieval list pictured right), better prices, bigger selection, and a few new weapon abilities unique to close combat.

Lance: This weapon can only be used while mounted. Add +1 damage when performing a Charge with this weapon.
Opportunity: Add +2 Attacks when performing a Snap Attack with this weapon.
Poacher: Add +1 Attack against Dinosaurs.
Sap: On a hit of 2+ total damage the attacker heals 1 Hitpoint (cannot exceed their starting Hitpoints).

Also I used some of the new special abilities for range weapons to make new close weapons, like the Energy Sword which uses Power Settings.

Now we’ve come a long way from knife + broken bottle + hatchet (aka the only close combat weapons real wild west cowboys used), but variety is the spice of life, and it’s fun to have some sci-fi stuff going on. Also if you have trouble visualizing a Duster wielding an Energy Sword, just think of some Neotechnoist in his high tech armor riding out through The Wall mounted on a custom breed of dinosaur, with bright banners everywhere and gun bearers scurrying behind. Besides…it’s fun!

As before the prices for equivalent Attack/Damage stats on close combat weapons is cheaper than range weapons. Because you have to get up close to hit someone in the face with them. For example the 3A-7D Long Sword is $130, 4A-4D Axe is $80, 6A-0D Spine Blade is $40, and the 2A-2D Bar Stool is $5. Compared to say a 400kW Six-Shooter at 4A-4D for $110, or 6A-2D Ultra Repeater for $150.

Anyway here is the PDF snippet of the new close combat weapons. These will be in the upcoming v2.5 release of the main rulebook.

I have another Battle to Seattle game tonight, set in Death Valley. Should be a grand old time! I’ll post some pictures asap. Also we are having a “bonus game” this Saturday, which is a pleasant surprise. It will be at the race track in Pahrump (east of Death Valley), which of course will be ruined.

Some weapon ideas

Dual-WalkerSee the end of this post for an update!

For a long time I’ve had this item on my TODO list:

- Calculate weapon stats using math instead of off the cuff

It’s a big one though, just because of the sheer number of existing weapons. However right now a lot of those weapons aren’t really choices since they are junk (Throwing Knife) or way too expensive to ever see actual play (Flamethrower). What I’d like to do, besides making sure each weapon is mathematically balanced, is add a bunch of NEW weapons as well, touch up the old ones, and give players a lot more choice.
I’m going to aim this for a v2.5 release, again a slight version jump because of the significant changes. It’ll also ruin a lot of old Saloon links if I remove weapons, but that’s the cost of progress sometimes. I wouldn’t worry about releasing these changes until after the Battle to Seattle campaign, just to not rock the boat too much with the existing players. So that would mean end of April maybe.
Here’s my brainstorm doc transcribed from a scribbled note sheet I wrote very late last night:

– Flare Gun
— Min range 2
— Halve target Defense until start of attacker’s next Activation
— Apply to whole allied team, so you can “mark” a target
— Need high tech version too (Holotargeting Marker?)

– Sonic Gun or Bronto Gun (like Elephant Gun)
— 4A-0D, force Bravery Test on 2+ total damage

– Variable Pulse Rifle or Flux Rifle
— 5A-1D base, but can change before each attack, as long as total is 6
— For example 4A-2D, 3A-3D, 1A-5D, 6A-0D, etc.

– Lever-Action Rifles
— 3A-4D stays, 3A-5D (or maybe 6D) becomes 2A. Current 3A-7D becomes 1A-7D.
— Remember to adjust Reload as well
— Maybe minimum range to 5 (from 4)

– Shotgun
— Can use Buckshot (“Rippershot”) for 4A-1D (or whatever)
— Or can use Slug at 1A-4D
— Can choose at start of game and on a Reload, or manually spend an action to change types

– Different Six-Shooters, styled after real world
— Volcanic for example is 5A, less damage
— eg 5A-0D entry level is equal to 4A-1D six-shooter
— LeMat revolver (renamed to LeDuc or something)
— Can fire buckshot in the real world, not sure how to account for that
— Walker pistol, high caliber (+Damage)
— Peacemaker pistol, long range

– Need more $10 entry level options as an alternative to 80kW Six-Shooter
– Need to remove junk weapons
– Need more close range shotgun variety, instead of just the three types
— Maybe add wattage ratings to shotguns? Or whatever rating plasma capacitors use
– Maybe need a new way to display similar weapons so the list isn’t just 10 different wattages
– General new rule: Avoid anything that does 10+ damage
— Exception are “Heavy Weapons”
— Such as cannon, flamethrower
— Heavy Weapons maybe have “Ponderous” (or something, maybe just “Heavy”) special rule which is -1 SPD, no Hustle, no Charge
– Need slightly more Medical Devices, specifically a $10 Delayed type

Update with a PDF
Well I actually wrote this post yesterday and scheduled it for this morning, and in the mean time I went through and did a first pass at revising the weapons! I’m really happy with the changes. The various pistols provide different approaches to Attack/Damage, while remaining thematic to their true world counterparts. I also like the shotgun revisions, updates to Twin Rifles, tweaks of Lever-Action Rifles, improvements to Laserbows, Throwing weapons, etc. Plus who doesn’t love the name “Bronto Gun”, which is like an Elephant Gun, but for Brontosauruses. In addition the balance between weapons for their cost and stats is a lot better now.
Anyway you can take a look at the revised weapons and items here: Revised Items PDF. I’ll be tweaking these more as I go forward, so like I said look for a full release after the campaign, so sometime in April. Remember of course you can always see the latest rulebook in the bleeding edge Dropbox which is synced with my computer.

Finally on dinosaurcowboys.com

Well after a year of humming and hawing I finally decided to take the plunge and get an “actual” .com domain. So as long as I keep payin’ you’ll be able to use https://dinosaurcowboys.com/ instead of the older, uglier, and messier dinosaurcowboys.wordpress.com. This also means you can reach me by email at carlo@dinosaurcowboys.com. Pretty neat!

Also I wanted to self congratulate that the site surpassed 80,000 total hits a few days ago. I know hit counters are so old fashioned, and most people don’t care about views, but I do! :) Coming from a childhood of 5 hits per year on some Angelfire homepage I crudely made with all-caps HTML, this is a nice big improvement. According to the WordPress stats my best day was 475 views. Most of the time it’s around 60-150 views though.

Update a few weeks in: One downside I noticed is the traffic really dropped off with the domain change, I guess because some old posts that were indexed at the .wordpress. address no longer are? Strange since the wordpress address still redirects properly. I guess I’ll just have to build up the traffic and search results again.

Winter is Coming

Winter-is-ComingWell I don’t normally like to post memes on here, but I figured if I’m going to I may as well go ALL OUT. So handless Philosoraptor on the body of a Game of Thrones meme. What a world!

Anyway I wanted to take today to talk about a few v2.1 brainstorms. That’s right, the update train just keeps on chugging! Certainly no core revisions as sweeping as the jump from v1.0 to v2.0.

  1. One fix (compared to a new feature) I’ve wanted to do so far is the Wound/Injury table effects. They are a bit inconsistent and some are poorly worded, and some don’t even make sense (like “Broken Tail” for the dinosaur, since they ignore Difficult Terrain already). Unfortunately I didn’t realize all this before I released v2.0! I was too focused on making sure the mechanics themselves were sound, avoiding the death spiral, etc. instead of grammatical touch ups.
  2. The other fix I would consider is calculating the value and statistics of weapons based on a mathematical formula. I did that for Improvement Points and statistics, and that worked well. So somehow quantifying Attacks, Damage, Distance, special abilities, etc. into the overall cost and balance of the weapon.
  3. Speaking of equipment I’ve considered a ranged Medical Device. I can’t help but think of the medgun from Team Fortress 2, but I’m sure I can come up with something more suitable to the Dinosaur Cowboys theme. Similarly healing “generators” that can be dropped/setup on the ground to heal in a radius could be fun.
  4. Finally I wouldn’t mind revisiting the Trait list and making sure that all of them have a use, and are somewhat balanced against each other. There will probably still be obvious winners, but it’d be nice if I got rid of some obvious losers too (for example I don’t see a ton of value in Sniper Shot or Tracking Shot when you could just get Skilled Shooter instead). I know my original intention was for players to take some of the better Traits first, then if they REALLY wanted to specialize take some of the less good Traits. So go for Skilled Shooter I and II, but then circle back and also take Tracking Shot or similar.

For rulebook formatting I still am considering trying to go to a 2-column format, and add a bit more design art inside. Maybe small little images of cacti and dinosaurs in the footer, for example.

Snowdrift-and-FencesFor new Features, and related to the title of this post, I really want to get some Seasonal features. Such as snowdrifts, snow, hail, slippery ice, cold weather, biting wind, etc. Similarly blinding and burning sun rays, high temperatures, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, dehydration, etc.
This is the perfect real world time to start on these plans because this morning my car had ice on it for the first time this year. So the phrase “Winter is Coming” is certainly apt. I could see playing a few matches on a snow-based table by taking my normal terrain and messily sprinkling it with fake snow of some sort.
So besides Features based on the season and weather, I want to add a few more general Features too! I think the Features are a great aspect of the game. Basically players can choose various Features that affect how the table is setup or how the match will go. Some are small changes (like Gusting Winds) and some are big changes (like Shield Generators or Volcanoes). And having dozens of options to choose from will just add variety to campaigns. Because they affect everyone on the table I don’t have to worry as much about balancing, and can just go for neat and thematic rules.

Some possible examples of new additions:
– Blinding Sun and Burning Sun
— Blinding Sun would start on a random table edge and move throughout the battle, shooting towards that edge (into the sun) gives a penalty
— Also maybe have one effect that disallows Long Range
— Another that allows ANY range but a max of 15″ or something
— Burning Sun would do a 1A-0D attack to everyone not adjacent to a tree (shade)?
– Rivers
— Some push, some drown, some are full of vicious dinosaurs, some are swampy and slow, etc.
– Propane and exploding barrels
— Needs to do somewhat good damage to be worth shooting
— Or have a useful effect (like an acid barrel that does damage over time)
– Have winter rules for Christmas
— Perhaps get colder as entity does more Activations
— Can warm up with items? Or by ending Activation by a geothermal vent?
—– Sort of like Don’t Starve with huddling around a fire in winter

Poker-SaloonThere is also a set of Initiative rules I’m considering. They probably won’t make it into the rulebook as a Variant because they are rather more complex and involved than most Variants, but I do want to try them sometime. Basically:
– Option for standard playing cards for Initiative
— Get 3 playing cards to begin with, draw 1 per activation, draw 3 more if hand is ever empty
— Players both put a card face down, flip at the same time, higher wins init
—– On tie discard both cards and redo
— The idea is to give a bit more control over when you try for initiative
— Since you could just “throw” a low card when you don’t care
— Face cards naturally beat numbers, just like a normal card game
— Could also draw the 1 card / player face UP instead of face DOWN
— This would introduce a bit of bluffing, because you could pay attention and start to figure out what the opponent has available

Oh and finally I thought I’d just drop this brainstorming tidbit…
“Circus” Allegiance
— Random positive and negative stat modifier?

Weird Posse build: Max 49 Hitpoint Leader

When I was paging through the rulebook before the v2.0 release I remembered I had put the maximum base Hitpoints at 40. I immediately wondered what a Posse dedicated to reaching that cap would look like. Pretty interesting idea right?
Well the result is the Snake River Cavalry (Saloon link) (PDF link).

little_wars_dinosaur_knight_by_keithburgun-d303pnrI went for the theme of a roving, slightly mad Knight (everyone who wanders around the future seems to be a bit crazy). A knight certainly doesn’t fit the general Dinosaur Cowboys theme, but it’s still fun, haha. Anyway I hired two very basic Members who have given up every single stat they can with Voluntary Weakness to provide as much IP as they can to the Leader.
The Leader himself started as a Duster who got max Hitpoints (40) through huge IP expenditure. Then he greedily took three Passive traits to reach Bonus HP III for a total of 49 Hitpoints! Pretty wild. I wanted him to be survivable instead of just a bullet sponge, so with the left over IP he has +1 DEF and enough for a suit of Dinohide Armor for a total of +4 DEF.
But just having a hard target wasn’t enough, the Knight needed to be able to hit back. Although a Shudder Lance would have been quite thematic, and I might do a variant build with that, I settled instead of the classic Heavy Repeater and a Machete (should have been a Short Sword). Throw on a pair of Large IRPs for easy HP recovery and he’s quite deadly.
Then of course his mount, a Runner of the Plains Breed. Pretty flimsy but super fast, so the Knight should be able to reposition once at least.

Here’s how it all looked in the end:

Posse: Snake River Cavalry by Carlo (1/100 IP, 0/1000 ND, 3/3 Traits)

Knight Alfandor (Duster Leader)
DEF 4, RTN 6, CTN 8, BTN 7, SPD 4, HP 49, Bonus HP, Bonus HP II, Bonus HP III.
Heavy Repeater, Machete, Dinohide Armor, Large IRP, Large IRP.

Squire Peter (Bandit)
DEF 0, RTN 8, CTN 8, BTN 12, SPD 1, HP 1.

Squire Carrie (Bandit)
DEF 0, RTN 8, CTN 8, BTN 12, SPD 1, HP 1.

Jousty (Plains Runner Dinosaur)
DEF 0, DIS 4, CTN 9, PANIC D10, SPD 11, HP 11.

And who would have thought but “knight on dinosaur” is actually a pretty popular image search term! The image above is from keithburgun.

Now I’m rather tempted to pit this wacky build against a normal posse and see who wins. I wonder if lucky hits would slowly whittle the Knight down, and if he could do enough reliable damage with RTN 6 to kill all the enemies. I feel like an enemy posse that had a massive dinosaur to bog the Knight down would help quite a bit.

The more thematic version with a lance and six-shooter would look like this instead:

Knight Alfandor (Duster Leader)
DEF 4, RTN 8, CTN 6, BTN 7, SPD 4, HP 49, Bonus HP, Bonus HP II, Bonus HP III.
Plasma Lance, 300kW Six-Shooter, Dinohide Armor.

New Papo 2013 Dinosaurs!

Well no one ever accused me of being in the loop, but luckily I was randomly doing a search for Papo today and found some absolutely awesome 2013 releases. I’ll cut right to the chase: Dimetrodon (Fin), Carnotaurus (Terror), Pteranodon (Flapper), and a Woolly Rhino.
Remember how I added the Fin dinosaur type a while back? Well it was actually March 2012 as a herbivore match for the Raptor. Since then I don’t know if the beast has ever seen the table. The main reason for that was no easy Papo purchase to match everything else! Well, that’s been remedied now and I’ll soon be buying the newly released Dimetrodon. The craziest part is Dimetrodon is not technically a dinosaur (which is why I put a disclaimer in the rulebook for people who thought the combination of dinosaurs available lived at nearly the same time).
The Carnotaurus also looks cool and would be a nice match to the Allosaurus, and to have a change of pace for the Terror type.
Even though Flappers aren’t used in combat having the dino could make for a nice objective or goal on a map.
The Woolly Rhino looks like a lower quality sculpt from their non-dinosaur line so I’ll probably pass on that.

Anyway the important part! Piiiiiiictures! I didn’t have much luck finding a really high resolution version, so I ended up cutting these out from their electronic catalog.

Update Sept 20th: So I ended up ordering all three of these dinosaurs from Everything Dinosaur, since I didn’t have any luck buying them locally in stores. Now to just anxiously wait for the package to be shipped and delivered. I’ll get some better pictures and use them in a game as soon as they arrive!

Update Oct 1st: Dinosaurs arrived by Air Mail yesterday! Got them unpacked and they look great, especially the Dimetrodon. I’ll get some pictures this weekend, and I think I’ll also redo my out of date Papo Dinosaur Gallery post.

See also: New 2012 Papo and New 2014 Papo.

Good Mounts with Lizardmen from Games Workshop

I thought I’d deviate a bit from plain cowboys and look at some figures from Games Workshop. I can’t believe the price of some of these though. $70 for a kit?! Are you KIDDING ME?! How do people even still play Warhammer?
But anyway the Lizardmen sculpts are pretty cool, and I like the background fluff on them with South-America-as-Lustria. Something about jungles makes them rather appealing.
I figured some of these could be useful as Dinosaur Cowboy mounts since some have saddles sculpted on. Just need some wide legged cowboys to drop into the saddle instead of lizard people.

First up is the recently released Bastiladon, who looks like a mildly overweight Ankylosaurus. The kit has an option to do a crystal laser thingy or have units mounted on it with some kind of snake dispenser. All that looks pretty ridiculous but the main dinosaur is nice and beefy so that’s neat.

Next is the Triceratops equivalent called the Stegadon. The dinosaur has sort of a scrunched up face, but what I really like is the howdah on the back. I could definitely see de-Aztecing it a bit and leaving it empty so figures could sit right aboard the figure. One of these days I’ll get around to mounting a howdah on a Papo toy since I think that’d look a lot more atmospheric than putting the “mounted” figure beside the toy. The less gaudy gold howdah looks even better for this model, but again I just think of what I could get for $70 instead (the price might vary depending on where you’re looking from).

Now we get into the carnivorous offerings with the Carnosaurus, which is just a big mish mash of various real world dinosaurs, but does a good job creating an imposing, menacing predator. The first picture (the gray dinosaur) is actually a Troglodon according to the website, and it looks like a Spinosaurus, which most people probably remember from Jurassic Park 3. Anyway I like the saddle work even if it’s still more Aztec than cowboy. The dangling reins and dynamic pose are very cool and would make a perfect platform for a melee focused character.

Here are some aerial dinosaurs equivalent to the “Flapper” type in Dinosaur Cowboys, in this case named the Terradon. There wouldn’t be much use for them since Flappers are non-combat dinosaurs just used for transportation. But they’re still pretty neat looking!

Razordon and Cold One
And finally a couple of miscellaneous dinosaurs. The first picture is of a prodded Razordon and would be useful for a generic dinosaur encounter, or to represent a Ripper perhaps. The second is a Cold One and could pass for a Raptor if it was a bit bigger (since a Raptor can carry two people). $20 is pretty steep for a single figure, but I imagine you’re getting tired of me ranting about price :)

Anyways there are some nice options if you are a Games Workshop fan, or maybe already have a Lizardmen army and are looking to branch out in your tabletop gaming choices.

I’m going to try to get a game in soon and post another battle report, probably from the Wind River campaign concerning the Drylands Expedition reaching Hyran Mine. I’m thinking the posse will be hired to take on the Night Daggers and go from there. I’m also thinking of doing a fortified, Feature-heavy match with Weapon Emplacements, Shield Generators, etc.